Interview with Lina Hu of YUUN

Interview with Lina Hu of YUUN

It wasn't long ago that Lina Hu of YUUN reached out to us introducing herself and sharing her most recent VESSEL Collection.  Not only did we find the collection stunning and thoughtfully beautiful, but felt her essence as a human was that of a deliberate creator we wanted to share and know more about.  Read on to hear what Lina has to say about YUUN.

Can you tell us more about yourself and your background? When did you start YUUN?

YUUN was started on a whim! I left my master’s degree in epidemiology and didn’t know what to do, so I enrolled in an introductory metalsmithing course. My mum had been a jeweler when I was very young and I was always curious about what she did. When I made my first ring in class, I was in awe -- I had spent so much of my life in a world of concepts and numbers, it was absolutely thrilling to be able to hold my work in hand! I was hooked from that moment! I didn’t set out to start a brand, but my friends urged me to do it, and YUUN was born in late fall of 2015.

Selfie at Lina's hair salon, Salon Freyja.

What are 3 things you didn't know about handmade jewelry that you know now?

I had no idea how long it takes to finish jewelry properly, until I first went through the process myself! You go from filing to sanding (both with multiple grits), then to polishing and finally buffing -- it is definitely the most time consuming part of making a piece!

When I started metalsmithing, I came to realize how intimate jewelry is -- how something made in the hands of one comes to live on the body of another, and the meaning the piece holds for me may be completely different for the wearer, who will instill it with their own memories, stories and emotions. This intimacy really brings my work alive for me.

Also, it has changed my perspective to understand how jewelry sits at the intersection of craft, fashion and art -- it incorporates very old techniques, innovates, and embodies something greater than itself!

What does sustainability mean to you?

Sustainability means thinking long term; it means accountability and transparency. It is impossible for the jewelry industry to be completely environmentally sustainable because it depends on mining, but we can do our best to minimize the impact on the earth, and we can absolutely control the social impact -- I think ethics falls under sustainability too, because we have to look at the intersection of both to understand the future of the industry. There are so many places in the process of going from the “mine to market” where both environmental and social detriment can occur, and often, the bench jeweler doesn’t know, for example, where the metal is mined and whether the stone cutter was paid fairly or worked in safe conditions -- in fact, sometimes, it is impossible to know. What I can do at my individual level is to find out as much information as I can about my materials and choose them responsibly, and pass on the transparency to my client. And part of thinking in the long term is also to make pieces that last, jewelry that is passed on instead of discarded readily. I think my customers are reflecting on these things and they often ask questions about the sustainability and ethics of my brand; it makes me hopeful that we may be moving towards “fewer and better”.

Moodboard for the VESSEL lookbook shoot.

As a designer, where do you draw your inspiration from?

On the conceptual level, my collections are motivated by abstract ideas that are simultaneously very personal. I often draw from philosophy, history, and science -- for example, the HARMONICS collection was ignited by the idea of cognitive consonance, and it explores the idea of harmony figuratively, literally (in music, astronomy and mathematics), as well as physically in how the pieces of the series can be combined and worn in multiple ways. The most recent collection VESSEL is a meditation on what it means to be a body that holds, so in essence, it looks at what it is to identify as a woman. Visually, the pieces take from the ceramic history of China to encounter the ideas of orientalism and appropriation, thus intimately, it is an examination of my own intersection as a Chinese woman.

On the aesthetic level, I am inspired by a little bit of everything -- architecture, art (especially abstraction), film. I am constantly looking at patterns, and lines and shadows of objects and places that inspire me to visualize, deconstruct and rearrange forms in my mind. I am interested in the abstract and the elemental, and certain details really resonate with me and find their way into my work.

If you could use one word to describe your personality, what word would it be?

Introspective -- I am someone who is always in my head! I have a very vivid imagination and I would say that my internal life is richer than the life I live physically sometimes, particularly during this pandemic!

VESSEL lookbook image of the Abi ring, Bracelet of Ten Thousand Tears, and the NURR vase. Photography and AD by JG and Shi, HMUA by Laurie Deraps, Model is Anne Sao of Next Canada.

Tell us about your design style. What makes your collections unique in the industry?

At a surface glance, my designs appear just to be simple and abstract. Upon a closer look however, there are playful elements that are subtle but impactful. For example, the earrings of the HARMONICS collection may seem to be just simple spheres or circles, but once you understand that many of them are reversible, and that elements of different earrings can be put together to form new earrings, the intent of the collection really reveals itself.

I really design each series to be considered as a coherent whole -- all the pieces come together to communicate different parts of the theme. I often do a lot of research on the collection themes, and I hope they are evocative for the wearer and incite them to reflect and relate.

When or how do you know that you should follow through with that initial spark to create and design a new collection? Can you describe that moment for the VESSEL Collection?

I often come upon the theme of the collection before the aesthetics come to me, and when a visual idea converges with the abstract concept in my mind, that is when I know to move forward -- it really is a serendipitous moment!

The VESSEL collection was partly born from what was ruminating in my head during the BLM protests last year; looking at how I may have participated in white supremacy revealed how colonized my thinking was, and this pushed me to look profoundly at my identity, as an ethnically Chinese individual. I had also been reflecting a lot in the past few years about what it means to have a female body, and how much of how I behave is biological constraint and how much is social and cultural. I was contemplating this one day when I happened to look upon a vase of flowers in my studio, and suddenly the trope of woman as vessel collided with everything else, and the full idea of the collection was conceived!

VESSEL lookbook image of the rings in the collection. Photography and AD by JG and Shi.

What advice would you give to someone interested in getting into the jewelry design business?

Do not be afraid to ask for help! It is impossible to know and do everything, and you will save time, learn, collaborate meaningfully and make something greater if you build a community around you!

What is your favorite piece you’ve ever created – and what made it so special?

My favourite keeps changing! My current is the Sappho earrings from the most recent collection, VESSEL. I am obsessed with the way these earrings sit -- they give the illusion of spilling out of the ear and over the lobe! The design is so simple but has so much impact, and this is what I strive for in my design philosophy!

What is your favorite part of the creative process?

That “a-ha!” moment when a design comes to mind! It may be a completely new idea but often it is when I already have part of a piece thought out, or an approximation of it, and there remains an aspect that needs to be resolved. When that last component arrives and the design fully emerges, it really is exhilarating!

The good light in Lina's apartment living room

View of Lina's studio.

Selfie at Lina's studio in the Mile End neighbourhood in Montreal, which she shares with Bouquet and Studio TB. You can see her work bench in the background.

Content shoot with Naomie Tremblay and Lindsey Bain. Shot in Lina's apartment.

BTS of VESSEL lookbook shoot - Anne Sao being touched up by HMUA Laurie